This review can also be found in the June 2019 issue of The Connected Educator.
No one can deny that our schools are not meeting the needs of all students, and in this fast-changing world, much of what we do is often ineffective or irrelevant. So much of how we run our schools is based on tradition and our collective memory of how we ourselves were schooled. We know we need to change, but schools are complex institutions and it’s hard to know where to begin.
In Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, Eric Sheninger and Thomas Murray provide a roadmap for change that’s both innovative and practical. The primary audience for this book is school leaders but, as the authors suggest, meaningful change comes from “leaders by action” rather than “leaders by title” and they can be anyone in the school community.
The authors devote a chapter to each of their eight identified keys to designing (or redesigning) schools. Each chapter breaks down the big idea (the key) into its elements and provides a research-based rationale for the advice and action steps given. Chapters end with an “Innovative Practices in Action” section where school leaders from around the country describe how they succeeded in bringing substantial change to their buildings or districts.
The chapter on leadership and culture contains many of the themes that run through any discussion of how to turn vision into action: communicating, building relationships, delegating (but not too much), modeling, reflecting, etc. We’ve heard these ideas before, but they bear repeating. Educational technology is discussed throughout the book, including a whole chapter on leveraging technology with advice for building an infrastructure and addressing some of the issues that we in Maine have struggled with since MLTI brought one-to-one computing to every middle school in the state.
The chapter titled “Designing Learner Centered Spaces” may be the most interesting and valuable in the book. Often when we think of school reform, we pay little attention to the effect the physical space can have on learning. This chapter cites research about school environments and gives practical tips for creating inviting and flexible learning spaces and avoiding what the authors call the “cemetery effect” where desks are in rows with the teacher in front. The theme of this chapter is that learning is not confined to the traditional classroom, and we can design physical and virtual spaces that provide students and teachers with variety and choice.
If you only have time for one chapter of this book, read Chapter 5, “Making Professional Learning Personal.” I have been on both the giving and receiving end of ineffective professional development practices, so this chapter resonated with me. Much of what passes for professional learning opportunities for teachers is a just a series of one-size-fits-all sessions where an expert is brought in to tell teachers how to do it better. It may or may not be relevant to an individual teacher’s practice and seldom has any lasting effect. Where teachers are given choice, their “development” is measured by the amount of time spent in coursework or in-service classes rather than by how they improve their practice. This chapter promotes a personalized plan for professional learning that allows teachers to combine a variety of learning experiences including personal and professional networks, peer observations, coaching, Edcamps, and other formal and informal opportunities. Professional learning should be embedded in the culture of the school so it’s ongoing and expected, and its success is measured by outcomes, not hours.
The authors are experienced educators and administrators with extensive backgrounds in educational technology, and this book reflects their research and expertise, providing practical ideas for designing better schools for today and for the future. Thomas Murray will be a keynote speaker and presenter at the 2019 ACTEM Conference. Come hear him on Thursday, October 10 to learn more about how these 8 keys can help you and your school community transform learning.